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Graphing

DisplacementTime Graph
Slope is

Constant
Velocity

VelocityTime Graph

v
v0

Fig 1.1a

Uniform
Acceleration

Slope is

Slope is

a0

Fig 1.1b

(tangent line)

Fig 1.1c

v0

a0
Area under
curve is v

Area under
curve is x

x0
Fig 1.1d

a=0

Slope is

Area under
curve is x

x0

AccelerationTime Graph

Fig 1.1e

Fig 1.1f

Slopes of Curves are an important analytical tool used in physics. Any equation that can be manipulated into the format
y = mx + b can be represented and analyzed graphically. As an example: v = v0 + at can be rearranged slightly into
v = at + v0 . Compare this equation to the equation of a line. It is apparent that a is the slope and that v0 is the y-intercept
(Fig 1.1b and Fig 1.1e). What equation generates velocity in Fig. 1.1a and Fig 1.1d?

Area Under a Curve is another important graphical tool. Multiply the y-axis (height) by the x-axis (base) and
determine if this matches any known equations. For example: Figures 1.1b and 1.1e are velocity-time plots. Simply multiply
v t . This is a rearranged form of the equation v = x t . The form obtained from the graph is x = vt , which means that
displacement is the area under the velocity-time plot.

Calculus: Required in AP Physics C (optional for AP Physics B students). Calculus is taught in math class. These review
sheets will focus on the Physics aspect of solutions. Calculus steps may not be shown. Solution will be up to the student.
The equations outlined in the previous page work well in the following situations.
Linear Functions: involving constant velocity and acceleration, as diagrammed in the above graphs (except Fig 1.1d).
Nonlinear Functions: scenarios where the problem is seeking information about a change in a quantity, x or v.
Nonlinear Functions: scenarios where the problem is seeking an average velocity in an interval.
Calculus is needed to find the slopes of nonlinear functions and the areas under nonlinear curves.
1.

Velocity: Slope of the displacement-time curve.

v=
2.

4.

example:

v=

d
1 2
x0 + v0t + at = v0 + at
dt
2

v = v0 + at

Acceleration: Slope of the velocity-time curve.

a=
3.

dx
dt

dv
dt

example:

a=

d
( v0 + at ) = a
dt

Velocity: Area under acceleration-time curve. (Note: if c = v0 cannot be found, then you can only solve for v )

v = a dt

example:

x = v dt

example:

v = ( a ) dt = c + at

v = v0 + at

Displacement: Area under the velocity-time curve. (Note: if c = x0 cannot be found, then you can only solve x )

Revised 8/29/06

1
x = ( v0 + at ) dt = c + v0t + at 2
2

1
x = x0 + v0t + at 2
2

R H Jansen

Falling Bodies: Objects moving vertically under the influence of gravity. Earths surface gravity is g = 9.8 m/s2. This
speeds objects up (+ acceleration), but is directed downward (). Objects can be thrown up, down, or just be dropped. They
can land below, at the same height, or above the origin. They come to an instantaneous stop at the highest point in flight.

v y = v0 y + gt

y = y0 + v0 y t +

1 2
gt
2

v y = v0 y + 2 g ( y y0 )
2

The positive and negative signs can cause trouble in these problems. The easiest way to handle the signs is set the direction of
initial motion as positive and then to ensure all signs are consistent with this decision. This has one huge benefit. It
eliminated the double sign on acceleration. When initial velocity v0 is used to anchor direction, then a positive acceleration
means speeding up and negative acceleration involves slowing down.
Dropped from rest
Thrown downward
Thrown upward
v0 = 0, but it will move down initially
v0 is directed downward
v0 is directed upward
Set downward as positive direction
Set downward as positive direction
Set upward as positive direction
v=0

v=0

+v0
+v

+g

+x

+g

+x

+x

g
+v0
x=0
v
x

+v

+v
v

Everything is positive and easy

Everything is positive and easy

This is difficult, and depends on where


in the flight the problem ends.

Kinematics Problems Involving Changes in the Magnitude of Acceleration


If the magnitude of acceleration changes while solving a kinematics problem then the problem must be solved in separate
parts. Unlike displacement x and velocity v, the Kinematic equations do not contain the variables a0 and a.

Example 1-3: More than one acceleration


A car initially at rest accelerates at 4 m/s2 while covering a distance of 100 m. Then the car continues at constant velocity for
500 m. Finally it slows to a stop with a deceleration of 3 m/s2. Determine the total time of this displacement.
Acceleration Phase: x =

1 2
at
2

Constant Velocity Phase: v =

2x
=
a

t=

x
t

Deceleration Phase: v = v0 + at

2 (100 )

( 4)

= 7.07 s and v = v0 + at = ( 0 ) + ( 4 )( 7.07 ) = 28.3 m s

t=

x ( 500 )
=
= 17.7 s
v ( 28.3)

t=

v v0 ( 0 ) ( 28.3)
=
= 9.43 s
a
( 3)

t=

500
v

Total Time = 7.07 + 17.7 + 9.43 = 34.2 s


Revised 8/29/06

R H Jansen